Saturday, January 27, 2018

My Sympathies to the Pearsons and to Crock-Pot

So, I am not a big television watcher. I can count on one hand the number of shows I have watched regularly in the last five years - and they were usually watched on OnDemand or the network app after they'd aired. American Idol, Parenthood, Dancing with the Stars, Chicago Fire and This Is Us. Sadly those first two are off the air. I haven't watched Dancing with the Stars in a few seasons. That leaves two shows that I currently watch.

This Is Us is a big one with a huge following that has already garnered a number of awards in its first two seasons. I really love the show, but it has been a little bit of a turn-off for me that so much emphasis and mystery surrounds the death one of the main characters. I loved Parenthood because it just tapped in so much into everyday life with believable storylines and likable characters. This Is Us has all of that. And that's why I watch it - the character development, the down-to-earth and common topics that are tackled, the exploration of the family unit and relationships within families. If I wanted suspense and mystery and death, I'd watch Walking Dead or something along those lines. 

But anyway, enough of my rant. The death of Jack Pearson is what the show has come to center around. It's the "Who Shot JR?" of this generation. If you don't know what I'm talking about, Google it. It's from a prime time soap opera of the 1980s called Dallas and when JR Ewing was shot in the season cliffhanger, 350 million people watched and then were left hanging for 8 full months before they found out the answer. I still remember seeing people everywhere with "Who Shot JR?" shirts in 1980 as a young kid.

So, there still hasn't been an official reveal of Jack Pearson's death, but after this week's episode, it has viewers assuming that a fire caused his early, untimely death. A fire caused by an old, faulty slow cooker. Everyone has assumed it to be a Crock-Pot brand appliance. The two terms are kind of synonymous. Just like everyone calls a photo copier a Xerox machine. Or a bandage a Band-Aid.

So, when Jack tidied up the kitchen and headed up to bed - and then the slow cooker light flickered and sparked and then flames shot out that ignited a towel that crept up a wall and eventually engulfed the entire home - my heart sank. My heart sank for the fictional Pearson family and for the PR team and execs at Crock-Pot who I knew instantly would be dealing with a PR nightmare. Poor Jack Pearson, the show's hero, is about to die a fiery death and the villain in all of it is an inanimate object that was simply warming chili for a Super Bowl celebration. 

As I suspected, social media channels were instantly inundated with jokes and promises to throw away Crock-Pots and never use them again. Maybe it will just blow over quickly. But maybe it will slow sales of this creation by Irving Naxon that got the Crock-Pot name when sold to Rival Manufacturing in the 1970s. 

Worse yet, it could sink sales of Crock-Pots and send those customers all toward the wildly popular multi-use Insant Pot as a replacement. 

And then there's the possibility that all those people that are holding on to Crock-Pots bought decades ago or passed down by an aunt or grandmother will be making their way to the dumpster - even if they are still functioning - just because they are deemed too old to be safe. (Maybe it's been a secret conspiracy between the writers and the Crock-Pot brand all along. LOL). I'd be interested to see what the sales look like for the brand at the end of the year. Will it turn out to be a good thing or a bad thing? Will people swear off Crock-Pots for good or rush out to buy the newest models to replace old ones?

I don't know how all the legal stuff works - but I guess my naive and sympathetic mind wishes that perhaps the writers may have consulted with the company in advance so they'd have some sort of warning of the S&*@ storm that would ensue. I went back and watched the scene and it clearly says "Slow Cooker" on the product, but I had to go back and replay several times to catch it. Maybe that was their "out" that made it ok. They weren't using the brand name.

And I guess in my always-tying-to-be-safe, mom and wife of a firefighter mode, I wish they'd been more careful about how they portrayed this and maybe allowed it to become educational. They could have collaborated with the International Association of Firefighters or the National Fire Protection Association to do a pubic service announcement about preventing fires.

I wonder if they consulted any firefighters as they sat and wrote a scene about how someone would die and a family would be displaced by a fire to see if maybe they were being somewhat realistic. I wish they may have had a disclaimer following the episode that slow cookers are generally safe but that it's important to be careful in using any electrical appliance and that if you suspect something isn't working property to contact the manufacturer. They could have had a clip with a video message from a fire chief at the end of the episode giving a statement about how critical it is to have working smoke detectors. That should really be the big takeaway from the episode rather than villainizing a safe product that is used by millions of families each year. Just FYI, I asked my husband if he's ever been to a fire caused by a Crock-Pot. In his 20-year career, there hasn't been one on his department and he hasn't heard of one elsewhere.

I LOVE my slow cookers, all of which have been Crock-Pot brand. I still have one that I received as a wedding shower gift in 1991. When I got a new one for Christmas about 10 years ago, my husband insisted I pitch the old one. I resisted because it came in handy to have two on weekends when I would do a lot of cooking for the week or when I had a get-together and wanted to keep baked beans warm in addition to meatballs. I later got a casserole crock by Crock-Pot that I posted about a couple months ago - not because it was a sponsored post or because it was a free product sample, but simply because it was a product I loved. I hate to see all the not-so-full-of-love posts about this product the past couple days. I feel it's all a little unfair and is changing the public perception of a perfectly safe product.

The backlash from the episode of This Is Us caused the company to release the following statement:


"It is important that our consumers understand and have confidence that all Crock-Pot slow cookers exceed all internal testing protocols and all applicable industry safety standards and regulations as verified by independent third-party testing labs," the statement said. 
"For nearly 50 years with over 100 million Crock-Pots sold, we have never received any consumer complaints similar to the fictional events portrayed in last night’s episode. In fact, the safety and design of our product renders this type of event nearly impossible. 

"Our hope is that the team at NBC’s ‘This Is Us’ will help us in spreading factual information regarding our product’s safety. While we know their primary mission is to entertain — something they have continued to excel in — we also feel they have a responsibility to inform." 
I should probably mention that fire safety is a really important topic to me, which naturally stems from being married to a professional firefighter. I also am an author and wrote a children's book, Old 104 Rides Again, about an antique fire engine that touches upon fire safety. I visit several schools each year (usually during Fire Prevention Month in October) to read the book to kids in preschool up to about 4th grade. I always take that opportunity to emphasize several things to children, such as never playing with matches, having working smoke detectors on each level of your home, never hiding from a firefighter should they come in to rescue you in a fire, touching a door with the back of your hand before opening it if you are in a fire and having an escape plan and family meeting place outside the house if you have to get out in case of a fire. I also initiated a local project, the "Stay Safe Essay Contest" for kids in K - 5th grade. Kids write essays on staying safe for a chance to win a ride to school on a firetruck. I hope that the kids I encounter in these endeavors walk away with a little more knowledge and confidence in how to keep themselves and their families safe from a fire.

So, from this foodie, fire prevention advocate and This Is Us fan, keep on cooking with those Crock-Pots and be sure to:
Make sure your smoke detectors always have working batteries. It's good practice to check your batteries in the spring and fall at the same time you change your clocks for daylight savings time.

Keep towels and other flammable items off stovetops and away from from electric appliances and devices.

Keep an eye on your aging small and big appliances for damage.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

The Breaded Steak Sandwich at Ricobene's

Four years ago, while visiting Taste of Chicago, I came across the Ricobene's booth. It was the year I was introduced to the breaded steak sandwich. I got a taste-size portion of their famous sandwich - which I didn't realize was so famous. It was my first time having a breaded steak sandwich and I guess you could say it was love at first bite. I looked for it again at the fest the following year.

Chicago Foodie Sister Carrie with Sam Ricobene - third generation owner of the establishment.

Fast forward to late 2017 and a video pops up in my Facebook feed about this sandwich and I'm intrigued and reminded about this delicious sandwich and instantly craving one. I figure it's time to enjoy another one and I'm not patient enough to wait until Taste of Chicago rolls around again. I look up the address and plan a foodie field trip day with hubby and make Ricobene's the first stop. It's on the south side near Chinatown with street parking available as well as a free lot across the street.


We got there early - I think it was around 10:30 a.m. and the place was already bustling. A row of tables were pushed together with a group of police academy recruits chowing down. Others filed in and out ordering the casual Italian specialties that are all reasonably priced. I got to spend a few minutes chatting with Sam Ricobene, grandson of the restaurant's founder. The eatery dates back to 1946 and he said that it was in 1976 that they added breaded steak sandwich to the menu. It became a huge hit and has continued drawing in diners for decades.


They've got an extensive menu of sandwiches - Italian beef, Italian sausage, beef/sausage combos, chicken breast, sloppy Joes, BBQ pork, eggplant parmesan, breaded perch, hot dogs, burgers and more. They also offer pizza in thin, pan and deep dish versions - I wish I'd had room to give some of the pizza a try because it looked amazing, but being stop #1 on our foodie field trip day, I knew I had to go easy. I'll have to save it for another day, but I suspect that once I make it in there, I'll cave and order a breaded steak. It would be too hard not to.



The breaded steak sandwich - which is available in regular size and king - has made quite a name for itself and landed itself on "best of" lists compiled by various sources, but a USA Today article on 2015 spread the word of this fabulous sandwich beyond the boundaries of the Windy City when writer Ted Berg declared it "the best sandwich in the world."


If you've been to Ricobene's, you know exactly what Berg is talking about and what I'm reiterating. This is a sandwich that is life-changing. One that you won't be able to get out of your head or your taste buds once you've had one.

And if, like me, you've enjoyed it at the Taste of Chicago, you still need to get in to the restaurant and have one. Sam Ricobene told me that the Taste of Chicago version is a little different - requiring an adapted preparation method when preparing it in such huge quantities for the huge food festival. So, if you've had it at the Taste, you still need to get a taste of the restaurant version. Ricobene's should be on the foodie bucket list of every Chicagoan. What are you waiting for? Get over there and get one - and tell them the Chicago Foodie Sisters sent you.

Ricobene's
252 W. 26th Street
Chicago
(312) 225-5555
Ricobenespizza.com


Saturday, January 20, 2018

Ballpark Pub in Bridgeport

Anyone who knows a little about me (or who doesn't know me but has peeked a little at my social media pages) likely knows that I'm a die-hard Cubs fan. But I'm also a baseball fan. I am just in love with the game. And I'm in love with Chicago baseball and Chicago fans and Chicago's baseball neighborhoods and Chicago's baseball neighborhood eateries. So, when we got an invite to check out a pub on the south side just three blocks away from Guaranteed Rate Field (it'll always be Comiskey to me!), I was happy to head there for a bite.

Ballpark Pub is a fun little neighborhood tavern where the baseball touches tug right at my little baseball-loving heartstrings. They've got seats from the ballpark. A to-scale batter's box at the entrance. Logos on the wall. A big photo of Bill Veck looking down from above. An awesome mural on the back wall with a scene depicting the infamous Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey Park. 

There are also other cool features to the place that I loved - 16 beers on draft (from a homemade steel-pipe draft), plenty of screens for watching all kinds of sports, 20+ USB ports along the bar for charging your phone or other devices and a bar top made from an old bowling lane.


But, all the baseball emotions aside, we were there to try the food and while sometimes a neighborhood pub can be a little disappointing in the food department, this one was not in the least. They don't have an over-the-top menu with a crazy number of items, which is good -- figure out what you do best and do it. And they do. They do have a sizable list of specials with a wide variety that are rotated on occassion. In addition to their board of specials, they are currently running wings for 40 cents each. I'm not one who really orders chicken wings (it's just a weird lazy thing for me -- seems like a lot of work for a little bit of meat), but hubby placed an order of a half-dozen wings with buffalo sauce. I do love buffalo sauce and these wings really made me want to eat chicken wings more often. That sauce was on point, the meat was tender and the bleu cheese dipping sauce was pretty awesome.


I also noticed that they had fried cheese curds on the menu - and after a few questions I was assured that they are genuine, good 'ol white cheddar Wisconsin cheese curds. How could I turn those down? It was a hefty portion just as good as you'd get at any roadside spot north of the IL border. 

We also tried some cheeseburger sliders as well as some brisket sliders. The brisket and pork are smoked in-house and the brisket was super tasty, served on toasted brioche buns. There are several things on the menu that make great shareables.

Baseball Pub also does Tuesday night bingo. It's free and you can win meals as well and have a chance at a big progressive cash jackpot. Draws a pretty good crowd. It's not your grandmother's bingo.

I chatted for a bit with Nick Bertucci, who is co-owner of the place along with his business partner and childhood buddy, Rich Rogulich. Both have serious ties to food and baseball - both are lifelong residents of Bridgeport and both of their families have been operating food stands and catering within the ball park for decades. 

Bertucci's family started doing catering at Comiskey in the 70's, a year before he was born. He said he's grown up around food and baseball - and started helping out his parents out in the family business as a young kid. 


He said some of the big sellers are the signature burger, ribs, the pot roast sandwich, meatball sub and brisket nachos. The pub is just a baby - it's been there less than 18 months, but it shows all the signs of being there for many years in the future. If you happen to be heading to a game this season, stop in for a pre-game meal or a celebratory drink (or two or three) and some bar bites following a win. They'll be adding patio seating this spring, too. Or for a quieter low-key lunch, stop in now during the off-season and take in the atmosphere without the crowd.



Ballpark Pub
514 W. Pershing Rd.
Chicago
773-675-4687
TheBallparkPub.com






Friday, January 19, 2018

Burgerhaus in Schererville, Indiana

As a foodie, I'll travel quite a way for a good meal. But this time I didn't have to. I was happy to get invited to dine at Burgerhaus in Schererville, Indiana. Since I live in the south suburbs, it wasn't much of a trek for me to get there. However, I did end up going on a very slick and snowy day during rush hour, so it took a little longer than anticipated.

Once I got there, I was ready to settle into a cozy booth and get to tasting. I had been there only once. I was with my dad and we were rushing to another destination and split a portobello burger. It was excellent and I wished I'd had more time there and more of an appetite. This time I came prepared. 

We started out with the tempura-fried New Orleans Pickle Chips served with zesty peppercorn ranch dipping sauce. I loved these bites with just enough crunch not he outside and perfect pickles on the inside and I'm sure you will, too, especially if you pair it with one of their craft beers. I'd recommend "The Dude" Porter from Crown Brewing. They've got an impressive list and I was told that craft cocktails featuring spirits from Journeyman Distillery in Three Oaks, Michigan would soon be added.



Next was an order of the La Pueblo Chips and Guacamole - both made in-house. And following that was a scrumptious salad called the Valparaiso.





The Valparaiso was salad perfection - with everything I love. Mixed Greens. Bartlett Pears. Fennel. Candied Walnuts. Dried cranberries. Bleu Cheese. And the most delicious homemade champagne vinaigrette. I wish I could buy it by the bottle.



We tried two burgers. One was the Baton Rouge and it had ingredients that could not be more unexpected on a burger - among them shrimp, andouille sausage and a cajun creole sauce. It was a definite winner accompanied by some spicy fries with bleu cheese sauce.





Next up we tried the Burger of the Month. It was called the Vienna. It is topped with one of my favorite things ever - bacon jam! It's one of their prime burgers with Provolone, bacon jam, applewood bacon, fresh arugula and some amazing stout-braised onions on a brioche bun with a side of super crispy tots. It's only available until the end of January, so get in and try one. I promise it will be worth it!



Each month you'll find a new creative burger and side on the menu. The Vienna replaced December's burger called "The Bedford Falls." If you haven't noticed yet, pretty much everything on their menu has the name of a place or is inspired by the food of that location or region. The vibe is casual and chill, but there are little bits of encouragement and inspiration to follow your adventurous side and get out there and see the world. Their tagline is "Never Stop Exploring." So, it's not just good food, but a cool overall experience that just might get your mind wandering and light a spark to help you fulfill that wanderlust.



With a name like Burgerhaus, you expect the menu to focus on burgers - and really good ones. However, if someone in your group isn't a burger person, they'll have no problem finding something else to enjoy. Besides the Valparaiso, they have a big list of gourmet salads and you can always add grilled chicken, mahi mahi or avocado to a salad.

It's also definitely a great place to stop at for a drink and some sharables. The list of appetizers has some great options - in addition to the pickle chips and guac, you'll find the Belfast Onion Rings, Osaka Seared Tuna, Castroville Parmesan Artichoke Dip, Cairo Hummus Platter and more. They also serve up some killer loaded fries with carne asada, guac, jalapeño sour cream, pico de gallo and cilantro.

Other entrees include fish tacos, gourmet grilled cheese, chicken sandwich and fish and chips. Burger options number a dozen and you can substitute your beef patty with a black bean patty, ground turkey, grilled chicken breast or portobello mushroom cap.


The Schererville spot is one of three (soon to be four) locations. You'll also find them in Valparaiso and Indy. The fourth location will be opening in Caramel, just outside Indianapolis.

And as always, a good meal is always better with really friendly, attentive and knowledgeable server. Shout out to Ceara for the great craft beer convo and recommendations and info on their menu items.


Burgerahus
813 W. Lincoln Highway
Schererville
(219) 227-8442
visitburgerhaus.com




Thursday, January 18, 2018

Now Find™ Apps Help Those With Special Diets Find Foods For Them

I recently received some information on Now Find™ Apps that can be useful for those who choose or need to follow a specific diet. If you are restricted to gluten-free or dairy free, opt for a vegetarian diet or lean toward organic foods, these APPS can be a big time saver and help you easily identify what you can eat - as it's more common to be looking at a sea of options that you can't have.

I downloaded one of the family of APPS and found it easy to use. You can easily look up products or all products by a certain brand to see which fall into your "can have" category. You can also compile shopping lists to make you trips to the grocery store easier.

Check out Now Find Organic & Non-GMO, Now Find Gluten Free, Now Find Dairy Free, Now Find Gluten Free & Now Find Vegetarian, which are available on the App Store or Google Play, offering detailed information and ingredients for over 30,000+ products at the touch of your fingertips. You can also further refine searches with additional filters if you're looking for something that's Sugar Free or Vegan or free of artificial flavors - with 16 additional filter options.

You can download the apps here: http://nowfindfoods.com


Chicago's First Culver's Opens Next Week


Culver's has been serving their signature ButterBurgers in the Chicago suburbs for a while, but on Tuesday Chicago will get its very first Culver's location. It will open in the city's Bronzeville neighborhood, according to franchise owner Baron Waller. Draper and Kramer, Incorporated, is the developer of the Lake Meadows Market retail center at 35th Street and King Drive, where the new 4,300-square-foot restaurant is located.

“We’re thrilled to bring custom, made-to-order, high-quality meals and desserts to Chicago, all served with a friendly smile,” said Waller, who owns and operates Culver’s restaurants in Joliet, New Lenox and Lockport. “We’re equally as excited to become a supportive member within the Bronzeville community, and proud to have added more than 65 jobs to the local workforce. Culver’s was founded on the idea of providing excellent service and high-quality food made with the best ingredients. The outstanding people who serve our guests behind the counter have helped us earn our reputation, and we’re excited to have team members from the surrounding community as part of our team."

Using 100% fresh, never frozen, U.S. beef made cooked-to-order on a buttered and toasted bun has made them stand out from other fast casual food chains along with their high-quality frozen custard that is made in Wisconsin. This foodie also is a huge fan of their Wisconsin fried cheese curds and their own root beer brand.

I first discovered Culver's on visits to our neighbor to the north. Whenever we'd head into Wisconsin, a stop at Culver's was mandatory. They've since opened locations in Chicagoland and now operate almost 650 stores in 24 states.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

The Brat Stop


We made a recent trip up to Wisconsin to go tubing at Wilmot Mountain, a winter resort with skiing, skateboarding and tubing. We spent the day there tubing and decided to stop at The Brat Stop for a bite before heading home.

I've been going to the Brat Stop since I was a kid. It was always the go-to spot for dinner and to pick up some cheese when we went over the border. On this visit the kids split a pizza with an order of mozzarella sticks and hubby and one of the boys shared a big European platter with three different flavors of sausage, sauerkraut, potatoes and red cabbage. I was content with my fried cheese curds, which I always have to order when we stop there.

The Brat Stop has a large varied menu with sandwiches, sausages, salads, ribs, tacos and more. They're also known for the live entertainment and have a store stocked with cheese, sausages, t-shirts, local beer and more.

THE BRAT STOP
12304 75th St 
Kenosha, WI
(262) 857-2011
BratStop.com


Saturday, January 13, 2018

Moore's Marinade & Sauces

Chicago Foodie Sisters recently received a bottle of Moore's Marinades & Sauces to try out. There are nine different varieties and we tried out the Original Buffalo Wing Sauce. Since I had the "marinade" part of it stuck in my head, I figured I'd use it to marinate some chicken. It wasn't until after they were in the oven that I noticed it was wing "sauce" rather than marinade that was meant for tossing at the end. But it was an accident that was a success.

My hubby and boys prefer drums over wings, so I let some drums marinate in about 2/3 of the bottle for the afternoon in the refrigerator. 

After about 6 or 7 hours, I placed them in a baking dish, poured over the remaining sauce that it had been marinating in and baked for about 40 minutes. Spooned the sauce over the top and served it with a little extra sauce for dipping along with some ranch. 

I am a bit of a wimp with hot stuff, so I did a few bites and it's all I could handle, but I must say it had  great flavor even though it was too hot for my delicate taste buds. :) It was one of those times my mouth was on fire, but I didn't want to stop. It wasn't all fire and no taste, it was a perfect combo of heat and flavor.

The guys in my house love hot stuff and one bite in my husband was loving it and going on and on about how good it was. I've already got plans for some chicken dip using what's left in the bottle.

You'll find Moore's in a number of grocery stores and department stores in the area, including Walmart, Meijer and Target. Click here for a complete list of retailers. You'll also find a great variety of recipes at mooresmarinade.com. 


***Chicago Foodie Sisters received a product sample for the purpose of a review. We were not compensated for this post. All opinions are our own.

Carraba's Valentine Sharing Meal

Last year I came across a great deal at Carraba's for Valentine's Day and I never posted about in on the blog, so thought I'd share now. I'm not sure if they're repeating a similar deal this year, but if so, it was a really nice meal and at a good price. It was $45 for a shared appetizer, two entrees and a shared dessert. So keep your eyes open for a special menu this year. I'd go back and do it again for sure.

Carraba's Italian Grill is a national chain. In the Chicago area you can find locations in Woodbridge and in Schererville, IN.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Dragon Bowl a Favorite Spot for Asian Cuisine

Living in the south burbs, I'm just a hop, skip and a jump away from the Indiana border. I do a lot of my shopping there. My kids have been in activities in Northwest Indiana. Until the gas prices went up there, I would usually drive over the border to fill up. Anyway, I spend a good deal of time in the state of Indiana. And one of my favorite spots for a bite to eat is Dragon Bowl. My parents lived down the street from it for over a decade, so I drove past it constantly. One of my boys is a big fan of Asian food as well and sometimes he and I zip in there for a quick lunch...like the meal below.

Dragon Bowl
8231 Hohman Avenue
Munster, IN
(219) 513-0088